There is a growing epidemic of rape and sexual assault in the U.S. military, perpetrated against both women and men with almost complete impunity. And a large part of the problem is the “fox guarding the hen house” mentality of male military leaders. Such as:
- Air Force Lt. Col. Jeffrey Krusinski, former head of the Air Force's sexual assault prevention program, who was arrested and charged with sexual battery after drunkenly groping a female victim in a parking lot,
- Lt. Gen. Craig A. Franklin who overturned a guilty verdict in a sexual assault case and then transferred the rapist to an Air Force base where family members of the victim live,
- A trainer of train new recruits at West Point who is being investigated for making secret videos of female cadets.
With this scourge reaching epidemic proportions – estimated at 26,000 sexual assaults in 2012, more than 71 per day – the time for “studies” and “discussion” within the military ranks is over. It’s time for a new strategy, and the Sexual Assault Training Oversight and Prevention (STOP) Act, H.R. 1593 is a good beginning.
This act of Congress will take the prosecution, reporting, oversight, investigation, and victim care of sexual assaults out of the normal military chain of command and place jurisdiction in an autonomous Sexual Assault Oversight and Response Office made up of military and civilian experts.
Making experts outside the military chain of command responsible for defending and protecting our military personnel is critical to addressing and ending this horrendous situation. That’s because, under the current military justice system, rape and assault victims are further victimized when they speak out and report their abuse.
Anu Bhagwati, a former Marine officer who served from 1999 to 2004, is executive director and co-founder of Service Women’s Action Network. SWAN works to eliminate discrimination, harassment and assault from military culture, and to improve veterans’ benefits for those who have been assaulted. She told a Senate hearing in March, 2013, “During my five years as a Marine officer, I experienced daily discrimination and sexual harassment. I was exposed to a culture rife with sexism, rape jokes, pornography and widespread commercial sexual exploitation of women and girls, both in the United States and overseas.”
And when she courageously filed a career-ending complaint against a fellow officer, she “lived in fear of retaliation and violence from both the offender and my own chain of command, and then watched in horror as the offender was not only promoted but also given command of my company.”
Obviously the real strategy for dealing with sexual assault in the military has been to silence victims through fear of retaliation or “blame the victim” as usual. So it’s time to give the tens of thousands of victims a chance for a fair hearing and the tens of thousands of rapists the punishment they deserve through the STOP act.